What is Cloud Infrastructure?
The cloud refers to servers or software owned and managed by another business. If it’s hosted in the cloud, it’s hosted on hardware and infrastructure that a third party manages and maintains. Cloud infrastructure, or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), refers to all the parts that make up a company’s cloud network.
These parts can include:
- Hardware — Physical servers that host the information that is put into the cloud.
- Processors, memory, and storage — Physical servers are many times split into virtual pieces of compute and storage.
- Internet, intranet, and VPNs — Companies can use both public Internet and their own private networks or intranets.
- Software and services — Cloud vendors often sell software that sits on top of the hardware, which frequently includes databases, analytics, integration, and management tools.
Cloud infrastructure is popular because it provides flexibility and the ability to offer more services to customers, particularly for small and medium organizations. Cloud infrastructure is also easier to maintain and manage than older (or legacy) systems.
Maintenance is simple because another company manages, monitors, and maintains the infrastructure. Therefore, it’s easier for a company to implement or get started with a cloud platform. The platform is already built and to use it, you must only create an account.
The history of cloud infrastructure
Concepts like virtual machines were born in the 1970s and virtual private networks (VPNs — more below) were available in the 1990s. However, the cloud computing of today didn’t really meet its full ideation until 2000. Between 2000 and 2006, companies that survived the dot-com bust needed to modernize their infrastructures.
In addition to modernizing infrastructures, cloud allowed companies to do more with less. Businesses no longer had to hire large teams of engineers to deploy and support their infrastructure.
Amazon launches AWS
In 2006, Amazon moved its online book retail business and all other operations to the cloud and launched Amazon Web Services (AWS). What started as a small leap of ingenuity quickly became the world’s largest provider of cloud-based infrastructure.
The open source movement, which made source code of any open-source application free to any developer, also increased cloud popularity. Developers could rapidly deploy open source code on the cloud. Over time, cloud providers like AWS also started offering pre-configured open source software packages. Open-source was attractive to programmers, as it allowed them to modify code in this new era where cloud infrastructure was controlled by the vendor.
The open source movement and cloud services, like AWS, grew in both size and popularity. Netflix joined AWS and made millions from subscription-based entertainment in the form of movies and TV shows. User friendly, inexpensive, and convenient, Netflix took over the video rental space in record time. Their subscription base grew to millions quickly. Netflix relied on AWS to support the rapid growth of their streaming business. Soon, companies like Adobe, Samsung, SAP, and Sony also adopted AWS.
Cloud goes mainstream
In February 2008, Microsoft announced Azure, their own public cloud platform, under the codename of "Project Red Dog." Then in April of that same year, Google launched an App Engine, a precursor to Google cloud. The App Engine allowed users to run their web applications Google infrastructure.
In 2010, companies began to provide public cloud offerings as an alternative to AWS. Microsoft launched Window Azure (now Microsoft Azure in February 2010). Rackspace and NASA launched OpenStack, an Open Source Cloud Computing Platform, in July of 2010. Finally, in 2011, Google formally launched Google Cloud Platform.
According to Statista, the public cloud computing market grew rapidly after Microsoft and Google joined AWS as competitors in 2008. At that point, the market was valued at $5.82 billion. By 2012, it was valued at $40.96 billion. Gartner research indicates that in 2018 the market was valued at $175 billion, and notes it should total $278 billion in 2021.
Today, AWS and Microsoft Azure have the most cloud infrastructure market share. According to Gartner, in 2018 AWS had a 41.5% market share with Microsoft Azure close behind in market share at 29.4%. The remaining cloud infrastructure competitors, including Google Cloud Platform, IBM SoftLayer, Rackspace, and other regional providers like TenCent and Alibaba Cloud, comprise the other 30% of market share. No competitor accounts for more than 3% market share.
The rise of SaaS
SaaS is closely related to cloud. Technically, it is not considered cloud infrastructure. However, it shares several similarities with cloud infrastructure.
Shortly after the growth of AWS and the open source movement, SaaS (software as a service) gained massive popularity. SaaS meant low costs, quick implementation, and accessibility. Users didn't need to manage the hardware and software of an application. Instead, users signed up, logged in via browser, and voila — they’ve got a new software application.
Office 365 is the epitome of SaaS. Most people are familiar with the evolution of Office, in all its incarnations. While versions on disk still exist and can be found in basement boxes and the bottoms of office drawers, people access new Office products now via the Internet.
Rather than pay for the software once and then pay to upgrade, a subscription fee incorporates upgrades into the service. Instead of needing a new disk to install the latest version of Office 365, employees simply upgrade via their web browser when Microsoft releases a new update.
The multiple parts of cloud infrastructure
Cloud infrastructure is like physical infrastructures — there are multiple parts that make up a whole. Servers still exist, but they are decoupled from customers. Customers don’t rent servers. Instead, they rent compute, memory, or storage.
Routers communicate with the servers and the intranet and Internet. VPNs, which make private networks available via public networks, are added for virtual access to servers, which increase security.
Companies, their products, and customers rely on cloud infrastructure
Cloud adoption means that a company’s product depends on the uptime, availability, and good performance of cloud products. For example, Netflix depends on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to keep its customers happy. If customers can’t access Netflix, it could be due to an AWS outage.
These dependencies don’t stop with cloud providers. With a huge amount of open source and customizable software available via cloud, companies have started integrating different systems into their own applications and products. That means that their customer’s experiences depend on the performance of these third-party systems integrated into their own products.
All these integrations and dependencies on cloud solutions make today’s SaaS products more vulnerable to outage and performance issues that directly impact their customers.
Preventing cloud infrastructure problems
Security, uptime, and backups are top priorities in cloud infrastructure. Investing in an observability strategy is the most efficient way to enhance performance, improve security, and avoid downtime.
Since a company’s infrastructure is vital to daily operations, it is essential to get ahead of any potential performance or security issues that would cause downtime or an outage. In order to accomplish this goal, companies must use observability software to catch problems before they impact customers. Digital Experience Observability software tracks and reports on the performance of predetermined pieces of a company’s infrastructure, and provides actionable information for quick issue remediation.
To monitor cloud infrastructure, companies need to use a combination of active and passive monitoring to watch user behavior and alert IT admins to potential problems and threats to user experience.
Cloud infrastructure includes all the components that make up an organization’s cloud system. These parts can range from hardware like a computer processor or a server for storage to software pieces like a web-development platform. Cloud infrastructure makes it easier for businesses to implement new software, update software, and scale technologies.
Digital Experience Observability is vital to the health of cloud infrastructure because cloud infrastructure is so complex, housing numerous different parts, many of which are from multiple third parties. Only a comprehensive observability solution can enable you to quickly discover the source of issues so you can take action before your business is negatively impacted.